Liverpool’s outstanding performance last night was still not as good as
it could have been. That was the verdict of Rafael Benitez after the
victory in Germany. It was clear towards the end of last night’s game
that Liverpool knew victory was sewn up, and Steven Gerrard said the
boss told them he wasn’t happy with the attitude towards the end. "The
manager will always want more from us whether we’re playing well or
not," Gerrard told the Liverpool Echo. "Even though we won 3-1, when we
got back to the dressing room he told us he didn’t think the second
half was good enough".
Was Gerrard upset at this? No: "That’s why he’s such a successful
coach. He won’t settle for any individuals or the team dropping their
standards. We were sloppy in the second half and the manager wasn’t as
happy as he was after the first. When you get a big lead and know the
other side needs six to beat you, you can let things slip a little. We
settled more than we would have had the game still been tight. The
manager doesn’t want us to take our foot off the pedal at all."
Gerrard was happy with his own performance against Leverkusen, feeling
it was a vast improvement on his recent form: "No-one knows more than
me if I’m playing well or not and in my last five or six games I’ve
been below the standard I expect from myself. The manager has told me
he wanted more from me so I felt I needed a big performance. I’m happy
with how I played last night. It was a lot better than I’ve been for
the last five weeks.
The captain also feels that the first-half performance was something to
be proud of, in a season that has seen as many downs as it has ups: "We
know there’s a lot to be positive about from the first half,
particularly when you consider our away form this season. I think we
shocked them because they expected us to sit back and be negative.
Instead, we got at them, took control and dominated the first half."
As far as the next round is concerned, does Gerrard fancy another
couple of games against Chelsea? "There are a lot of teams left who are
stronger than others," he says. "Every tie will be difficult and I
wouldn’t like to choose to play any particular side. Everyone will want
a battle of Britain and if we can play like that and get a few more
injured players back in time, we’d fancy our chances against anyone."
English teams can now be drawn against each other in the draw that
takes places on Friday of next week. That draw will also include the
semi-final draw, so it will be clear by then whether there’s any chance
of Liverpool facing Chelsea. Gerrard accepts though that the
improvement at Anfield over previous seasons hasn’t been matched away
from home: "We’ve got to keep this kind of form on the road. We’ve not
had many problems at Anfield, but this shows we are capable of doing it
Gerrard also had some encouraging words for the left-sided-mdifielder
turn left-back, Stephen Warnock: "Steve was brilliant – considering
he’s only made a handful of European appearances, it was an
exceptionally good game by him. I’m really pleased for him."
In a game that saw a 20 minute run-out for young John Welsh, who played
well in the time he was on the pitch, the injury-depleted Liverpool
team showed that they are capable of much greater things than they’ve
shown before. Leverkusen finished top of a difficult qualifying group,
and Liverpool did well not only to beat them, but to beat them